RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina’s nursing shortage is creating challenges for health care facilities, and Wake Tech Community College’s nursing programs are helping to fill the growing gap in the workforce.

“It was a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices, a lot of sacrifices for my family,” said Jennifer Arteaga. She has just completed the practical nursing program and will soon be taking a test to become licensed.

She is one of five graduates from Wake Tech’s new practical nursing program.

“What I like about nursing is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone, and it really makes me realize my potential and I thrive in that,” said Arteaga.

The program is back at the school after a 40-year hiatus. Anne Sutton-Jones, dean for the nursing program, says these students are critical in addressing the looming nursing shortage.

“We need all the wonderful, new nurses we can to support all those nurses who are frankly burned out from COVID land and all the drama associated with our healthcare settings these days,” said Sutton-Jones.

Research from NC Nursecast, a project of The Cecil G. Sheps Center For Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, found the state could face an estimated shortage of 12,500 registered nurses and more than 5,000 licensed practical nurses. According to researchers, those figures represent a shortage of 10 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Even if nurse graduates increased by 10 percent, NC Nursecast data showed there would still be a shortage of 10,000 RN’s and a shortage of 4,500 LPNs.

With nursing educators largely aging, Sutton says more nursing faculty and higher salaries for them are also needed. NC Nursecast predicts a shortage of 132 educators by 2033.

“We do need more and more nurse educators because if we want to increase enrollment in our program, we got to have the educators to teach them,” Sutton says.

It’s why researchers believe catching up to demand will also require not just more graduates but more efforts to retaining current nurses and possibly recruiting nurses that have already left the workforce.

That research shows the while LPNs are projected to be in shortage throughout the state, the western region and Piedmont/Triangle Medicaid regions are expected to face the largest shortages.

While RN shortages are also expected throughout the state, data show the southeast portion of the state could see a slight surplus of RNs by 2033. Researchers noted in their report this may be due to higher retention of graduates from local training institutions. 

In the meantime, Arteaga is looking forward to helping others and continuing her education.

“Go into the RN program and then get my BSN and who knows from there,” she says.